Mrs. Parks Due Honor of New TSUM Facility

TSUM Library Groundbreaking Ceremony Cover

Groundbreaking Ceremony for the Troy State University Montgomery, Rosa Parks Library and Museum, April 22, 1998

As a writer residing and working in the birthplace of the movement that eliminated racial segregation, I have met a number of the leaders. Recently, at the groundbreaking ceremony for its new Rosa Parks Library and Museum, Troy State University Montgomery honored one of those leaders.

When Rosa Parks spoke, I listened to her words as oral history. The history books say she was arrested on December 1, 1955 for refusing to give her seat on a Montgomery bus to a white man because she was “tired and weary,” but Mrs. Parks had more to say.

Mrs. Parks said she was sitting in a row of seats along with two other passengers, not in the white section of the bus, but in the front of the “colored” section. The white section of the bus filled with passengers. She described how the driver stopped the bus and came back to their row. He told them to stand up so he could move the line between the sections and a white passenger standing up could sit down. She said that the other two black passengers complied with the driver’s instructions and she did not.

On that fateful day, Rosa Parks was tired and weary, but not any more so than anyone else on that bus after a long day’s work. In her telling of the story, Mrs. Parks essentially repeated what she wrote in her book, Quiet Strength (Zondervan Publishing House, 1994), “Our mistreatment was just not right, and I was tired of it.”

As this very dignified woman spoke, my mind turned to another time and place, and another leader. It was 1895, at the Cotton States Exposition in Atlanta when another black leader spoke before a mostly white audience. In his famous speech, Booker T. Washington told of two ships at sea. One of the ships was in need of water and called out to the other for assistance. The other ship replied, “Cast down your bucket where you are.”

Campus Development Plan - Troy State University Montgomery, Rosa Parks Library and Museum

Campus Development Plan - Troy State University Montgomery, Rosa Parks Library and Museum

After telling the story, Washington explained the meaning. As the two ships are separated by the sea, Blacks and Whites could live their separate lives. His own words put it this way, “In all things that are purely social, we can be as separated as the fingers on the hand, yet one as the hand in things essential to mutual progress.”

In this speech, known as “The Atlanta Compromise,” he urged blacks to accept their inferior social position for the present and to strive to raise themselves through vocational training and economic self-reliance. Author Kevin Hollaway discusses Washington’s Atlanta speech in his essay, “The Evolution of Black Leadership at the Turn of the Century.” He says that after W.E.B. DuBois learned of Washington’s speech, he wrote in his newspaper, The Crisis, “Mr. Washington distinctly asks that black people give up, at least for the present, three things…First, political power. Second, insistence on civil rights. Third, higher education of Negro youth.”

Program of Events for the Groundbreaking Ceremony for the Troy State University Montgomery Rosa Parks Library and Museum, April 22, 1998

Sadly, Dr. DuBois’ evaluation of Booker T. Washington’s Atlanta Compromise proved correct in every aspect. In 1898 the U.S. Supreme Court established the Separate but Equal doctrine with its decision in Plessy v. Ferguson. The Plessy decision locked Americans of African ancestry into a legal status of inferiority. Dark skinned Americans remained in this oxymoronic status for more than a half century.

Although the U.S. Supreme Court had overturned Plessy a year earlier, it was Rosa Parks, who on December 1, 1955 sparked the movement that desegregated America.

Then, she only wanted a little dignity. She was just tired of being treated as an inferior because of the color of her skin. Today, America is indeed a far better nation because Rosa Parks had the courage to demand dignity. It was proper, during the proceedings, for Troy State University dignitaries, Dr. Jack Hawkins, Jr. and Dr. Glenda M. Curry, to honor Rosa Parks.

It was absolutely healing for Mayor Emory Folmar, to honor this woman while representing the City of Montgomery. Let’s not forget, forty years ago in this city, Rosa Parks was arrested, jailed, fined, and scorned for refusing to give up her seat on a city bus to a white man.

When completed, TSUM’s Rosa Parks Library and Museum will be a conspicuous and momentous addition to the growing mosaic of civil rights sites in the City of Montgomery.


Originally Published: 7 May 1998, Montgomery Advertiser

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